The Two-Track Approach That Is Transforming Addiction Healing


If you or someone you love has an addiction problem, you know how challenging it is to stop the addictive behavior. For most people with substance use or abuse issues, it is not just a matter of identifying the problem and solving it. The origins of addiction are generally found in multiple layers of unresolved emotional issues, originating quite often in early-life trauma. For healing a substance use disorder, a comprehensive dual-track program is the best strategy.

The term dual diagnosis means that someone has at least two health conditions occurring at the same. These are also referred to as co-occurring disorders. For example, a person who has anxiety may turn to alcohol as a way to lessen the difficult symptoms of anxiety. Self-medicating in this way generally serves to make the problem worse. The underlying anxiety issue is left unacknowledged, and the alcohol problem worsens as the person becomes more reliant on it to cope. Dual diagnoses often feed off of each other, so when one aspect is untreated, it can awaken the symptoms of another.

Most acclaimed addiction treatment models today apply their program to both addiction and mental health problems. Dual-diagnosis treatment techniques have undergone evidence-based scrutiny and are widely used today in residential and outpatient addiction treatment facilities. This discussion explores some of the components of comprehensive addiction treatment models, aimed at increasing success rates in healing substance abuse issues.

Medical Monitoring

M.D. psychiatrists generally play an integral role in a comprehensive, dual-diagnosis treatment program. These doctors evaluate patients for emotional and psychological factors that may be contributing to substance problems. Substance use often starts as a means of self-medicating the symptoms of underlying psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Once these factors are uncovered, they can be addressed with the help of a professional.

At first, patients may be given medications, so some initial headway can be made on the addiction behavior. Addiction psychiatrists are aware of the dangerous side effects many medications can have on patients with addiction disorders. Certain medications are addictive themselves, and others can exacerbate other symptoms of addiction. Doctors monitor the patients’ medication and ensure continuity after discharge. Patients’ challenges and progress are closely monitored by mental health staff and psychiatrists. Addressing mental health and addiction simultaneously increases the likelihood that the patient will be able to make lasting changes.

Treating the Source

Treating substance abuse in a vacuum, without addressing the source, may work for some people, but lasting sobriety generally requires moving beyond treating symptoms. The addictive behavior is a symptom of a deeper issue. Extreme nervous system stress from a childhood disruption or trauma is believed to be the origin of addiction problems.

Data show that many recovering people relapse at some point after the start of abstinence. The failure to address the emotional root of the addiction problem may contribute to relapse. Dual-diagnosis programs address both levels using a holistic range of treatment elements, such as 12-step involvement, trauma healing therapies, and behavioral techniques. Once the psychological underpinnings of the addictive behavior have been addressed, the patient often begins to feel more able to manage the remaining triggers for addiction.

Standardized Treatment

When you see the terms “dual-diagnosis” or “co-occurring disorders” used to describe an addiction treatment model, you can generally count on a set of relatively standardized treatment goals. The elements may differ but the intention is to heal addiction and its roots through simultaneously addressing the behavior and underlying cause of the problem. Programs that include therapeutic interventions for co-occurring psychological problems are becoming a consistent standard of care. A San Antonio drug rehab will generally have key elements in common with a program in Miami or Denver if they serve co-occurring disorders. Whatever the location, this more comprehensive, dual-track approach provides an important context to the process of healing addiction.

Counseling Focus

Dual-diagnosis addiction treatment programs generally provide an extensive counseling component. Patients participate in individual and group therapies, with a strong emphasis on family therapy. Chronic dynamics within one’s core support system, usually the family, can contribute to the patient’s substance abuse problems. Family therapists can help patients begin healing those relationship issues. In addition, families gain education about addiction and recovery, so they can be more understanding and supportive of the patient.

A counseling program is especially effective when trauma healing modalities are present to support it. Therapies such as Somatic Experiencing and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – commonly known as EMDR – are evidence-based approaches that help the patient slowly re-organize and process traumatic events. When the nervous system can process traumatic information without it getting stuck, the difficult effects of trauma begin to dissipate. This can help patients heal psychological conditions, such as depression, anxiety, attention disorders, and bipolar disorders. When successful, these interventions render addictive behavior easier to manage. Trauma-healing modalities have helped many people heal old patterns and rise from the chronic pain of addiction.

Treating All Addictions

Many times, when someone enters substance abuse treatment, they have developed more than one addiction. In addition to the primary addiction, a person may exhibit addiction to other drugs, substances, or processes. Food addiction, sex addiction, and gambling addiction are common examples of other addiction problems that often run alongside a primary addiction. A program that addresses co-occurring disorders is designed to address all addictions that are in play as well as their underlying causes.

Considering the high incidence of co-occurring mental health conditions in people with substance abuse problems, it is encouraging that many treatment programs are incorporating dual-diagnosis models. Patients may have more success in staying clean and sober and making permanent changes when the root of the problem is acknowledged and treated alongside the substance abuse issue. Trauma healing modalities aimed at enabling the brain to better process trauma have made this deeper healing more possible. If you or a loved one struggle with substance use or abuse, finding a program that addresses co-occurring disorders is a good strategy for beginning to heal the problem.

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